Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

Band of brothers: the Inklings at Oxford

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015
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magdalen

Where the parties happened. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Everywhere I go, I seem to find something about the new book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Carol and Philip Zaleski (and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, no less). Now I see the story in The Atlantic, too, in an article (here) by James Parker.

I’ve always loved the Inklings, not only for their writing, but also because they represent a period in England that I love:

zeleskiIn this nearly magical room, amid fire-crackle and clink of glass, you can hear them talking. Pipe smoke is in the air, and a certain boisterous chauvinism, and the wet-dog smell of recently rained-on tweed. You can hear the donnish mumbles of J. R. R. Tolkien as the slow coils of The Silmarillion glint and shift in his back-brain. Now he’s reading aloud from an interminable marmalade-stained manuscript, and his fellow academic Hugo Dyson, prone on the couch, is heckling him: “Oh God, not another fucking elf!” You can hear the challenging train-conductor baritone of C. S. Lewis, familiar to millions from his wartime radio broadcasts; hear the unstoppable spiel of the writer/hierophant Charles Williams, with his twitchy limbs and angel-monkey face; hear the silver stream of ideas and argumentation that is the philosopher Owen Barfield. They are intellectually bent upon one another, these men, but flesh-and-blood is the thing: conviviality is, for them, a kind of passion. The chairs are deep; the fire glows gold and extra fiery in the grate. Lewis’s brother, Warnie, rosy with booze and fellow feeling, serves the drinks. And the walls drop away, and the scene extends itself backwards and forward in time …

Is it the famous Eagle & Child, my favorite Oxford pub with its cramped dark-wood interiors and nooks and crannies? No! It’s Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford – I have to admit, it is perhaps the most beautiful college at the University (although I’m also partial to Christ Church, W.H. Auden‘s college, since I stayed across the street from it and got to look out over its marvelous gardens leading down to the ducks and the boats on Cherwell).

More from the review:

And so it began, and so it went on, with additions and diminutions, until the late ’40s. Reading aloud and commenting upon unfinished work was the group’s primary activity. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve, and—most resonantly for us—Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings all made their debut in this context. Tolkien, like Lewis, was part of the fabric of Oxford University, a philologist and a professor of Anglo-Saxon, teaching Beowulf by day while tinkering at night, at home, with his own made-up languages. Tinkering is of course quite the wrong word: Tolkien was plunging, spelunking, delving, excavating, as pickax-happy as a dwarf in the Mines of Moria, because in the roots of language—the glowing word-cores, the namings—he had found the roots of story. “For perfect construction of an art-language,” he explained in a talk delivered in 1931, “it is found necessary to construct at least in outline a mythology.” And there it is: the DNA of The Lord of the Rings. It was at this level of thinking that Tolkien met the way-ahead-of-the-curve Barfield, for whom language contained “the inner, living history of man’s soul.” Barfield’s brilliant 1926 book, History in English Words, is a work of philosophical archaeology, tracking and illuminating, via the changing meanings of words, the development of Western mental reality. And for Barfield, all reality was mental reality. “When we study long-term changes in consciousness,” he stated unequivocally, “we are studying changes in the world itself … Consciousness is not a tiny bit of the world stuck on the rest of it. It is the inside of the whole world.” (In Barfield’s old age, his theories would gain him a notable acolyte in Saul Bellow.)

 Well, as mentioned, read the whole thing here.  And read my Polish friend Artur Sebastian Rosman’s interview with the Zaleskis here.

cherwell3

Ducks and boats on the Cherwell. (Photo: Humble Moi)

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015
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magdalen

Where the parties happened. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Everywhere I go, I seem to find something about the new book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Carol and Philip Zaleski (and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, no less). Now I see the story in The Atlantic, too, in an article (here) by James Parker.

I’ve always loved the Inklings, not only for their writing, but also because they represent a period in England that I love:

zeleskiIn this nearly magical room, amid fire-crackle and clink of glass, you can hear them talking. Pipe smoke is in the air, and a certain boisterous chauvinism, and the wet-dog smell of recently rained-on tweed. You can hear the donnish mumbles of J. R. R. Tolkien as the slow coils of The Silmarillion glint and shift in his back-brain. Now he’s reading aloud from an interminable marmalade-stained manuscript, and his fellow academic Hugo Dyson, prone on the couch, is heckling him: “Oh God, not another fucking elf!” You can hear the challenging train-conductor baritone of C. S. Lewis, familiar to millions from his wartime radio broadcasts; hear the unstoppable spiel of the writer/hierophant Charles Williams, with his twitchy limbs and angel-monkey face; hear the silver stream of ideas and argumentation that is the philosopher Owen Barfield. They are intellectually bent upon one another, these men, but flesh-and-blood is the thing: conviviality is, for them, a kind of passion. The chairs are deep; the fire glows gold and extra fiery in the grate. Lewis’s brother, Warnie, rosy with booze and fellow feeling, serves the drinks. And the walls drop away, and the scene extends itself backwards and forward in time …

Is it the famous Eagle & Child, my favorite Oxford pub with its cramped dark-wood interiors and nooks and crannies? No! It’s Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford – I have to admit, it is perhaps the most beautiful college at the University (although I’m partial to Christ Church, W.H. Auden‘s college, since I stayed across the street from it and got to look out over its marvelous gardens leading down to the ducks and the boats on Cherwell).

More from the review:

And so it began, and so it went on, with additions and diminutions, until the late ’40s. Reading aloud and commenting upon unfinished work was the group’s primary activity. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve, and—most resonantly for us—Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings all made their debut in this context. Tolkien, like Lewis, was part of the fabric of Oxford University, a philologist and a professor of Anglo-Saxon, teaching Beowulf by day while tinkering at night, at home, with his own made-up languages. Tinkering is of course quite the wrong word: Tolkien was plunging, spelunking, delving, excavating, as pickax-happy as a dwarf in the Mines of Moria, because in the roots of language—the glowing word-cores, the namings—he had found the roots of story. “For perfect construction of an art-language,” he explained in a talk delivered in 1931, “it is found necessary to construct at least in outline a mythology.” And there it is: the DNA of The Lord of the Rings. It was at this level of thinking that Tolkien met the way-ahead-of-the-curve Barfield, for whom language contained “the inner, living history of man’s soul.” Barfield’s brilliant 1926 book, History in English Words, is a work of philosophical archaeology, tracking and illuminating, via the changing meanings of words, the development of Western mental reality. And for Barfield, all reality was mental reality. “When we study long-term changes in consciousness,” he stated unequivocally, “we are studying changes in the world itself … Consciousness is not a tiny bit of the world stuck on the rest of it. It is the inside of the whole world.” (In Barfield’s old age, his theories would gain him a notable acolyte in Saul Bellow.)

 Well, as mentioned, read the whole thing here.  And read my Polish friend Artur Sebastian Rosman’s interview with the Zaleskis here.

cherwell3

Ducks and boats on the Cherwell. (Photo: Humble Moi)

When literary tête-à-têtes ends in fisticuffs…

Monday, March 26th, 2012
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The subject of the fistfight: Lewis and Tolkien

It’s not often that two guys having a literary discussion end up by hauling off and whacking each other. And yet  it happened in the city of my alma mater, after several hours of serious drinking:

A 34-year-old Ann Arbor man was sent to the hospital with a head injury after another man punched him on Saturday during a literary argument, according to police. … the man was sitting on the porch with some people he had just met, talking about books and authors.

The 34-year-old man was then approached by another party guest, who started speaking to him in a condescending manner. An argument ensued and the man was suddenly struck in the side of the head, suffering a cut to his left ear …

The injured man – who was smacked so hard his glasses flew off and a lens popped out – was treated at a local hospital.

The story jumped from Ann Arbor to The Guardian, whose blogger, Sam Jordison, telephoned Michigan to get the scoop:  “The details remain sketchy, but the prominent rumour around town is that the men were disputing the relative merits of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.”

Virgil says: Don't watch. Don't listen.

Then Jordison shares his own self-satisfaction and his derision of his betters (Henry James, for example, is “the old windbag”) – apparently, he never loses a fight and is always right, just like the rest of us.  (It is the one thing we all have in common.) Then he asks a question:

But all this does make me wonder whether anyone else has experienced book-based violence. Have you had a literary argument so heated that you’ve only been able to resolve it with blows? Or could you imagine doing so – or at least losing your cool? And what’s your tipping point? If, for example, I were to inform you that J.M. Coetzee‘s Disgrace is a clever book for people who don’t like to think, would you hold it against me? And how do you like to annoy other book-lovers?

Here’s a few.

Mailer, Gore

Mad men: Mailer, Gore

There’s the time Norman Mailer punched Gore Vidal. “As usual, words failed him,” quipped Vidal.

And two Nobel laureates ended a friendship when Mario Vargas Llosa socked Gabriel García Márquez – story recounted here and here.

Then there’s the fistfight between Ernest Hemingway and Wallace Stevens, confirmed by others but recounted by Hemingway in a February 1936 letter:

"Nice Mr. Stevens" and Hemingway

Nice Mr. Stevens. This year he came again pleasant like the cholera and first I knew of it my nice sister Ura was coming into the house crying because she had been at a cocktail party at which Mr. Stevens had made her cry by telling her forcefully what a sap I was, no man, etc. So I said, this was a week ago, ‘All right, that’s the third time we’ve had enough of Mr. Stevens.’ So headed out into the rainy past twilight and met Mr. Stevens who was just issuing from the door having just said, I learned later, ‘By God I wish I had that Hemingway here now I’d knock him out with a single punch.’

So who should show up but poor old Papa and Mr. Stevens swung that same fabled punch but fertunatly missed and I knocked all of him down several times and gave him a good beating. Only trouble was that first three times put him down I still had my glasses on. Then took them off at the insistence of the judge who wanted to see a good clean fight without glasses in it and after I took them off Mr. Stevens hit me flush on the jaw with his Sunday punch bam like that. And this is very funny. Broke his hand in two places. Didn’t harm my jaw at all and so put him down again and then fixed him good so he was in his room for five days with a nurse and Dr. working on him. But you mustn’t tell this to anybody.

The winners

Then there’s the time that Desmond Leslie punched journalist and theater critic Bernard Levin in front of 11 million viewers over an article Levin had written about his wife, the actress Agnes Bernelle. The incident occurred the TV show That Was The Week That Was in 1962.

I am forced to come to the conclusion that book-lovers are a quarrelsome lot, not so much from these incidents as from some of the unsupported character assassination in the reader replies (though they did tip me off about where to find the best fights). Basta! What is it in us that likes to watch a fight?  As Virgil says to Dante in the Inferno: “To hear such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds.” It’s one reason the Inferno has always been more popular than the Purgatorio or the Paradiso. Something to remember when one indulges in the “Comments” sections.

The two who come out best from the whole mess are … those two tweedy Oxford dons, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Lewis, in particular, was generous and self-sacrificing to an extreme, and though the two men disagreed, they remained gentlemen and friends.

Out of the shadows: C.S. Lewis in Oxford

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011
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More cramped than it looks (Photo: C.L. Haven)

In the summer of 2009, I visited C.S. Lewis‘s digs about two miles outside Oxford.  Having seen Shadowlands, the movie based on his life (it must have been filmed somewhere else), I must say I was expecting something a little grander.  Not grand, just grander.

I knew the author had never been rich, but I wasn’t expecting a place quite so cramped and makeshift, quite so… well … “adequate.” But what struck me most on the personal tour is how William Nicholson‘s play and subsequent film misrepresented a life that was not a passionless, solitary bachelorhood, but crowded with people and noise and human obligations, whether to the bad-tempered mother of a dead friend who lived at Kilns with him and his alcoholic brother, Warren, or the rotating tribe of teenage wards who came to crowd the quarters.

A fateful night on Addison's Walk (Photo: C.L. Haven)

Some of the obligations were self-imposed. As Tom O’Boyle wrote recently in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette:

One discipline he kept as a result was replying to the 20-30 letters he received each day from fans on the day of receipt. It’s estimated he wrote as many as 20,000 letters during his lifetime. Maintaining this practice consumed hours every day and was especially taxing as his health began to fail.

I reviewed the 1,800+ page third volume for the Washington Post here, and mentioned the same. Lewis wrote everyone, including T.S. Eliot, the sci-fi maestro Arthur C. Clarke, and the American writer Robert Penn Warren.  “Other letters were from cranks, whiners and down-and-out charity cases; he answered them all,” I wrote.

“’The pen has become to me what the oar is to a galley slave,’” he wrote of the disciplined torture of writing letters for hours every day. He complained about the deterioration of his handwriting, the rheumatism in his right hand and the winter cold numbing his fingers. In the era of the ballpoint, he used a nib pen dipped in ink every four or five words.”

For me, Jack Lewis is the patron saint of labor.  And the turning point was a warm September night in 1931, when he took an after-dinner walk with Oxford chums Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien. The three strolled on Addison’s Walk, a beautiful tree-shaded path along the River Cherwell (I’ve walked it often on my Oxford visits), and got into an argument that lasted until 3 a.m.  It resulted in his conversion.

The charms of Cherwell (Photo: C.L. Haven)

As O’Boyle put it:

The effect of this conversion was explosive. Before it, Lewis’ ambition to be a great writer had been hampered by the fact that he hadn’t found anything worthwhile to say. The ledger of pre- vs. post-conversion literary output is hard to fathom. Pre: two slim volumes of verse; post: a torrent of books, essays, novels and radio talks – more than 30 published titles – all works with obvious Christian themes.

After conversion, he also prodded Tolkien to pull together and complete his tales about the private universe that had preoccupied him … Middle-earth.

Not a quiet life, nor a lazy one

Two slim volumes of verse.  A couple decades ago, at least, I remembering sitting on a sunny afternoon on a balcony outside a small library, idly thumbing through a volume of C.S. Lewis‘s poetry.  The magical lightness, the imaginative leaps, the quicksilver sense of the miraculous everywhere which colors Till We Have Faces, The Space Trilogy, The Great Divorce, and the Narnia books was nowhere to be found.

As I recall it, the poems had the solid, leaden consistency of a bowl of porridge.  So I was eager to alter my opinion with his recently published fragments of Virgil‘s Aeneid, a translation project that was interrupted by his death, the same day that John F. Kennedy was shot, Nov. 22, 1963. I haven’t had time to give it a fair shake, but I haven’t seen much to change my mind.

Not the whole story

In Books and Culture, Sarah Ruden agrees.  She wrote that, in his preference for archaic language and stilted locutions in his poetry showcase “Lewis at his narrowest.”

I know the narrowest (he disliked not only Eliot’s verse, but Evelyn Waugh‘s prose), but find virtues that more than offset them in the man as well as in the prose. (Besides, people say the same about Jane Austen – and really, isn’t that’s one of the reasons she’s delightful?)

Steve King, in a Barnes & Noble review, “Remembering C.S. Lewis,” on Lewis’s Nov. 29 birthday last week, recalled his prodigious memory:  “Meetings often lost focus as Lewis galloped through whatever books, ideas, allusions, and quotations sprang to mind. Few could keep up on the scholarly ride,” though others found it great fun.  According to his student Alastair Fowler:

Lewis has been called “bookish” — a dumbed-down response. Of course he was bookish; hang it, he tutored in literature. Even standing on the high end of a punt in a one-piece swimming costume with a single shoulder strap, about to dive, he had time for a quotation….”

And maybe there is even something to be said for “Lewis at his narrowest.”  From Fowler again:

He had been laughed at for offering himself as a specimen of Old Western culture. But he proved in actuality to be one of the last of a threatened species. Before he died, he wrote, optimistically, of the tide turning back to literature. In the event…[u]niversities submitted to bureaucratic management, dons morphed into accountants, training replaced education, and Theory displaced literature. Reading simplistic codes, supplying false contexts, pursuing irrelevant indeterminacies or tell-tale “gaps”: these have proved no substitute for the memorial grasp of literature.

A belated happy birthday, Jack.

No more billets-doux, no more epistolary novels, no more Collected Letters

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
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Write a letter lately?  I haven’t either.

According to a story in the Associated Press, nobody else is, either:

For the typical American household these days, nearly two months will pass before a personal letter shows up.

The avalanche of advertising still arrives, of course, along with magazines and catalogs. But personal letters — as well as the majority of bill payments — have largely been replaced by email, Twitter, Facebook and the like.

“In the future old ‘love letters’ may not be found in boxes in the attic but rather circulating through the Internet, if people care to look for them,” said Webster Newbold, a professor of English at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Well, not so.  We’re not likely to be able to retrieve them.  Such missives are likely to be harbored in defunct email systems on old computers.  I save a bunch seven-inch floppies with interviews on them, in hopes I’ll find a computer that can decode them.  Nothing like hard copies, even if I can’t lay my hands on them readily.

Voltaire wrote about 15,000 letters during his 83-year life.  In more recent times, C.S. Lewis is the patron saint of pen pals. His Collected Letters amount to thousands and thousands of pages. I reviewed the 1,800+ page third volume for the Washington Post here.

Lewis wrote everyone, including T.S. Eliot, the sci-fi maestro Arthur C. Clarke, and the American writer Robert Penn Warren.  “Other letters were from cranks, whiners and down-and-out charity cases; he answered them all,” I wrote.

"...the oar to a galley slave..."

“The pen has become to me what the oar is to a galley slave,” he wrote of the disciplined torture of writing letters for hours every day. He complained about the deterioration of his handwriting, the rheumatism in his right hand and the winter cold numbing his fingers. In the era of the ballpoint, he used a nib pen dipped in ink every four or five words.

Who, in the future, will have volumes of Collected that will be thicker than a slim paperback?

Beyond the prospect of no Collecteds, whole novels have been held together by letters – Laclos‘s Liaisons Dangereuses, for example, or, since we’ve mentioned Lewis, his  Screwtape Letters, or his Letters to Malcolm.  Or his friend Dorothy L. Sayers‘ mystery novel-in-letters Documents in the Case.  Or  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s Sorrows of Young Werther and Friedrich Hölderlin‘s Hyperion.

Beyond even that, letters provide pivotal revelations in Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice.  Or in almost anything by Henry James.  The sudden realization, the catharsis, the flushed cheek…

Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita begins with a letter – the letter that tells of the death, in childbirth, of the title character at age 16.  If people read it more carefully, they would have a different view of the “sexy” novel.  (Also if they read between the lines of Humbert Humbert’s self-serving pronouncements.  But without early training on all those day-after-Christmas letters and learning to write the evasive “thank yous,” how would we learn the most subtle nuances of writing at all?)

The very act of letter-writing consumed hours and hours of people’s time.  At Stanford, a whole project, Mapping the Republic of Letters, has evolved from the effort to track the to-and-fro correspondence during the time of the Enlightenment.  It turns out that we can map coteries, friendships, cultural epicenters, and famous journeys through letters.

AP again:

The loss to what people in the future know about us today may be incalculable.

In earlier times the “art” of letter writing was formally taught, explained Newbold.

“Letters were the prime medium of communication among individuals and even important in communities as letters were shared, read aloud and published,” he said. “Letters did the cultural work that academic journals, book reviews, magazines, legal documents, business memos, diplomatic cables, etc. do now. They were also obviously important in more intimate senses, among family, close friends, lovers, and suitors in initiating and preserving personal relationships and holding things together when distance was a real and unsurmountable obstacle.” …

But Aaron Sachs, a professor of American Studies and History at Cornell University, said, “One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don’t have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma’s letters.”

“Part of the reason I like being a historian is the sensory experience we have when dealing with old documents” and letters, he said. “Sometimes, when people ask me what I do, I say I read other people’s mail.”

What about all those books that describes when a pile of a love letters are ceremoniously burned?  Or returned to the beloved in a ribbon-tied packet after a break-up?  Not quite the same as pressing a “delete” button, is it?  However, that sort of rite-of-passage has been on the downswing since the invention of the xerox machine.

“Letters mingle souls,” as John Donne wrote, but in a wholly different way than what is commonplace on the worldwide web.  Despite my sentimentality, however, I, for one, am not sure I’d trade pages on cream-colored vellum for the zip and brevity and immediacy of quickly typed “Sure. Will do.” on my Mac.

 

C.S. Lewis, “carny classics,” Joy Davidman … it all comes together

Friday, October 22nd, 2010
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Notable poet, feisty communist, and free spirit

Books Inq made a reference to Daniel Kalder’s recent Guardian article on the carny world — “that strange parallel world of mutants, outcasts and misfits living according to their own code.”

Since the article had an ostensible literary purpose, perhaps it was inevitable that William Lindsay Gresham‘s Nightmare Alley came to the fore — “a violent and disturbing voyage through tarot, mind reading, carnival life, psychoanalysis and spiritualism, as cold reader Stan Carlisle graduates from sideshows to fake religion, seeking wealth.”

Normally the worlds of William Lindsay Gresham and C.S. Lewis don’t join up — but they should.  The two men married the same woman — Helen Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis.

I wrote about her in 2006 for the San Francisco Chronicle here — “ESSAY: Lost in the shadow of C.S. Lewis’ fame, Joy Davidman was a noted poet, a feisty Communist and a free spirit.”

If I do say so myself — and I do — it’s a good read.  Not because I am so clever, but because Joy is a fascinating and much-disparaged figure in literary history:

“Most references to her either neglect or gloss over the fact that she received the most prestigious award a new poet can receive — the Yale Younger Poets Series Award — for her 1938 poetry collection, “Letter to a Comrade.” …

A year later, Davidman was named joint recipient — with Robert Frost — of the $1,000 Loines Memorial Fund. She went on to write two novels. Her final work, “Smoke on the Mountain,” is a vivid, provocative interpretation of the Decalogue still in print after half a century. She inspired what some critics see as Lewis’ greatest work, “Till We Have Faces,” as well as being its dedicatee (as he was hers in “Smoke”). Some say she is even the model for its tough and invincible heroine, Orual.”

I can’t summarize it.  Read it yourself.  Women have the historic role of being eclipsed by their husbands.  Joy Davidman, however, had the unusual experience of having that misfortune happen to her twice.  One thing bugs me, however, in the Shadowlands version of her story (where she is played by Debra Winger), and in the usual biographical accounts.  Normally, her wish to remain in England is portrayed as some sort of groupie fandom or attempt to manipulate C.S. Lewis into a relationship.  I’ve advanced the best theory:

Her 1953 emigration to England has usually been attributed to her breakup with Gresham and her subsequent flight into the arms of a stable, stoutish Oxford don. No one has suggested another possibility: The House Un-American Activities Committee hearings were in full swing.

Davidman had been a strident associate editor of New Masses and active in the pro-communist League of American Writers. She had also had an unsuccessful stint in Hollywood as a scriptwriter. Did she see herself and Gresham summoned to squeal on former colleagues before Sen. Joe McCarthy? At the time of her first flight to England in 1952, Congress was issuing subpoenas to another volatile husband-and-wife writer team with Hollywood links, Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. (Hammett served five months in jail for refusing to testify before McCarthy’s Senate subcommittee; Hellman was hauled before HUAC.)

This anxiety is not likely to surface in any of her letters, and could not have been discussed openly. Such were the times. It’s hard now to comprehend the red scare unleashed by the hearings, especially among those who might have had a song to sing. (As the daughter of a “red diaper baby,” this writer remembers being earnestly warned never to mention that grandparents had been rank-and-file Party members in the ’30s — even a decade and a half after the congressional hearings finished.)

I responded to Frank Wilson‘s Books Inq. post — and Frank responded to me by posting a link to my San Francisco Chronicle story.  And I responded by posting it all here.  Once again, the endlessly self-reflexive nature of blogdom.  The Land o’ Lakes butter box once again.

Postscript on Oct. 23:  By the by, I neglected to mention that I found evidence to support my theory.  I mentioned it in my 2007 Washington Post review of Lewis’s letters here:

Although many have impugned the motives of Davidman, the [initial reason for their marriage] is revealed in a footnote: Lewis confided to his friend Sheldon Vanauken that he had married “to prevent the Government deporting her to America as a communist.” She had been a prominent party member, and the congressional red scare was in full swing when she fled the United States.